Preliminary county solid waste management plan discussed

RIDGWAY - At Tuesday's joint meeting of the Elk County Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) and the Elk County Solid Waste Authority, consultant Michelle Nestor provided attendees with a draft of the Elk County solid waste management plan for review. The 10-year, comprehensive plan contains a number of recommendations and suggestions for the authority that could help it maintain current cost-effective services, expand services and increase revenue. Nestor stressed that the plan is only a preliminary document and that it must be first submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for review. "This is a 10-year plan. And it's supposed to be a dynamic plan, which means that a lot of things that we suggest will move, can change. It's supposed to be flexible. We really think the authority is doing as much as it can right now with its resources and with its manpower," Nestor said. DEP will then make its recommendations and return the revised document. Nestor said there is no way to determine how long this process will take, but said it has been known to take six months or longer in the past. "This is just a draft. DEP has to review the plan and offer its comment before it's publicly released. So there's still a lot of work to do," said Bekki Titchner, Elk County solid waste/recycling coordinator. Priorities identified by the solid waste advisory committee were financial stability; recycling market development; education and awareness; laws and enforcement; competitive marketplace; convenient access to services; and outlets for materials that require special handling. Nestor said the the authority had already taken several recommended steps in past years to become more cost-effective, including the consolidation and streamlining of drop-off collection services; the elimination of unmanned drop-off locations in the City of St. Marys; removing drop-off locations in curbside collection communities and eliminating or reducing glass and plastic at remote drop-off locations. Another recommendation followed was the establishment of a central recycling center - the Elk County Community Recycling Center opened in 2010 in the Stackpole Complex in St. Marys as a manned collection point that is open for business several days, uses a number of volunteers, and holds several special collection events, including electronics recycling and household hazardous waste, to better serve Elk County residents. According to the plan, some of the suggestions are for the authority to seek out greater partnerships with the private sector as it moves forward. Nestor said the advisory committee thought something the authority could handle on its own would be to promote commercial recycling more for those who drop off materials at the center, in particular small businesses. She said it would not incur any additional costs because the authority wouldn't be going out and collecting the materials, but the processing of the materials could provide more revenue. Nestor said another step that could be taken would be to continue developing relationships with businesses and industries and possibly develop what is called a resource recovery park at the current recycling center location. Also known as an eco-industrial park, Nestor said such an establishment could provide Elk County with a convenient outlet and resale opportunity for recyclable and salvageable material generated by county residents and small businesses. She said it could also provide job training and growth by introducing new business and employment opportunities for mainstream workers and to area residents with mental and physical disabilities. "Some of these things might already exist in your county. But what we've seen is when you start to bring them clustered together, everybody benefits a little more. This would take a long time to develop, but this is working in some other towns where you can take that central location and build upon it," Nestor said. "We do think it's a chance for job growth, a little bit of revenue, and a chance to reduce the waste stream." She said at a resource recovery park, the opportunity could exist for the collection and resale of appliances, textiles, deconstruction building materials such as molding, windows and fixtures, and office furniture, giving waste haulers the opportunity to reduce disposal costs for these items and allowing the authority to increase its revenue through their resale. "Old construction material, especially when homes and buildings are deconstructed, can be taken to a central facility to be resold, especially in an area like this where you have historic buildings," Nestor said, adding that one such resale facility in Pittsburgh has been very successful. "You also have a lot of seasonal camps here, where people don't want to top dollar all the time to fix things. "It could be something you run yourself. It could be something that another organization, another nonprofit would decide to pick up and do."She said an associated project could be paint recycling and sales. Some of the items the authority could handle itself, and preparing and processing some of the other potential items listed may require some degree of partnership and cooperation between the authority and area organizations and businesses. Additionally, Nestor noted textiles can bring in a good amount of revenue for a recycling program and there is a market for them by companies who process them into industrial cleaning rags. "Textile recycling is one we think the authority can handle [by itself] easily," Nestor said.